My friend Chandra used to call me Imelda Marcos. While my shoes in no way numbered those of Ms. Marcos, I did have a lot of shoes, and with the exception of my running shoes that were seldom worn, every shoe in my closet had a heel. Coming of age in the 1990s, I loved the chunky heels that seemed to find their way on to all sorts of shoes – Doc Martens with heels, boots with wide heels, and even – and I cringe typing this - tennis shoes with heels. Although my options were rather limited due to where I lived (Southeast Alaska), I always sought out the brightest, most fun shoes I could find. And if there wasn’t at least a three-inch heel, they really weren’t an option. I wore a pair of 4-inch, open-toe, patent-leather heels with laces up the front to my high school graduation. As I walked across that gym floor, clicking loudly and assertively, I felt like I owned the room. I took it as a point of pride that more than a few people commented on those shoes. In high-school my heels made me feel special. At a time when nonconformity was popular, because my shoes were unique, I was too. My shoes allowed me to put myself out there and gave me confidence.
As time and fashions changed, my high-heels narrowed in number, but my love of them continued. And I am not alone. The Spine Institute reports that 72% of women have worn high-heels, and many of them do so every day. For some, wearing heels is an outdated employment requirement, yet for me it was thankfully a choice. But wearing heels was more than a fashion statement. At a towering 5’ (5’1” if I am generous), wearing heels seemed necessary – especially as my taller friends started wearing them. A pattern was established in high school that lasted the better part of two decades. When I started teaching college classes while in graduate school at the age of 25, I felt that as a young female of modest stature I needed to assert my position at the front of the classroom, and one way to do this was through my high-heels. They gave me height and confidence, and they made me feel powerful. Even when I was pregnant in 2015, I insisted on wearing my signature high-heels. In fact, I recall a social media post where I pledged my allegiance to high-heeled shoes despite the growing bump. Most of my friends were encouraging – there were many “you go girl” statements in response to my dedication. A few others made knowing comments like “we’ll see,” or “let’s talk when you hit the third trimester.” But ultimately, my pronouncement was essentially a commitment I lived up to, and only partially because I had been so public in my pro-heel position. Even when I fell flat on my face in front of a student, in what was surely the most embarrassing moment of my pregnancy (it turns out that adding an extra 30 or so pounds to your midsection alters your center of balance a bit), I continued.
Then it happened: I had a baby and suddenly I didn’t care about my fancy shoes. Maybe it was the post-baby weight, or maybe I was just tired. Suddenly, the tennis shoes that I always had but seldom wore found their way to the front of the closet. And though I still tend to wear heels on teaching days, or when I have important meetings, or other times when I might need that extra bolt of confidence that wearing high-heels still gives me, I now opt for comfort with style. I reach for thicker heels and stay around three inches of added height. I still rebel against the mom look (SNL describes this perfectly), but I have totally bought into foot comfort post-baby. My high-heels are still a part of my image and identity, they still make me feel special (as they did in high-school) and assertive (as they did when I first started teaching), but they are not as important to me as they once were. My identity as a more seasoned professional, and especially now as a mother, allows me to think of those high-heels as an accessory, not a necessity.
Are there things you thought you would never do that changed once having a child, or since beginning your career in academia?